Ehud Barak addresses the Herzliya Conference, June 16, 2016.
(photo credit: ADI COHEN ZEDEK)
Former prime minister Ehud Barak has in recent months thrust himself back into public consciousness.
In May, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu replaced Moshe Ya’alon with Avigdor Liberman as defense minister, Barak appeared on Channel 10 and warned of “budding fascism” in the government.
In June, he gave a fiery speech at the Herzliya Conference calling for a grassroots efforts to topple Netanyahu’s government. He followed up with TV appearances.
On Wednesday, Barak went one step further, claiming that a series of events set in motion by Netanyahu compromised the nation’s security.
Netanyahu’s “inability to judge deep security interests and the priorities they dictate,” “disregard for the potential of cooperation with the US,” and “careless operational behavior” were the problem, Barak said.
He refrained from saying precisely how Netanyahu’s supposed mismanagement of risks endangered Israel’s security, claiming that “due to the sensitivity of the matter I won’t be able to clarify further.”
Barak has on several occasions denied harboring aspirations for a political comeback, including in an interview in June with The Jerusalem Post’s political correspondent Gil Hoffman.
“Remaining silent and running for prime minister are not the only two options,” he said. “I intend to take action. I will not run or work within a political framework, but I will take action and aid efforts to change the situation.”
Part of the reason might be Barak’s inability to muster broad public support and work within a party infrastructure – two requisites for a credible political campaign. Nevertheless, his broadsides against Netanyahu have dulled the prime minister’s patina of invincibility. The spurned former defense minister Ya’alon is working to create a political movement that plans to challenge Netanyahu, and other political players on the Right, such as former Likud minister Gideon Sa’ar, might also consider running against Netanyahu.
Criticism of Netanyahu that opens the way for a viable political alternative to the present government is a welcome development. The strength of democracy is based on the premise that political leadership is ultimately held accountable to the public whom it serves. Politicians pay for their mistakes by being replaced with a candidate who the public thinks to be more talented and better equipped to deal with the nation’s challenges.
But the validity of Barak’s criticism – particularly his statement that Netanyahu compromised Israel’s security – is impossible to verify. If Barak has information that points to misjudgments on the prime minister’s part, he has an obligation to reveal them – at the very least within the appropriate parliamentary forums that deal with security matters with the necessary discretion. Hiding behind the claim that the issue is “sensitive” and therefore cannot be revealed for fear that doing so will hurt Israel’s security allows Barak to make claims without having to back them up with facts.
Other statements by Barak are simply conjecture, such as his claim that Netanyahu’s decision to delay negotiations with the US over military aid hurt Israel.
Ultimately, it is up to the Israeli public to decide whether they are convinced by Barak. Is he hiding behind the claim that “sensitive” security issues prevent him from detailing how precisely Netanyahu compromised the nation’s security, or does he have substantive evidence to this effect? Does the wider public believe, like Barak, that Netanyahu’s government is showing signs of fascism? These questions and others will be answered at the ballot box in the next election.
But if Barak and other political opponents of Netanyahu want to win the next election, they have to do more than just level criticism against the present government; they have to offer viable options and a way forward that convince the public to vote for them over Netanyahu.
Once again, if Barak has information that shows the present political leadership failed to protect Israel’s cardinal interests, he should reveal it in relevant forums.
And if Barak wants to place himself or another candidate in a position to challenge Netanyahu, he must do more than criticize the present political leadership and issue unverifiable claims. He must offer a convincing, viable alternative.